Monday, October 22, 2012

Hebrews

Hebrews.  The Holy Bible.  New King James Version.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

To my mind, Hebrews is one of the key books of the Bible.  Like Paul’s letter to the Romans, it ties together and gives context to other scripture.

The audience and authorship of this book are not made clear as is typical of most New Testament epistles.  Based on the subject and the many references to Old Testament scripture, it is clearly direct to an audience of Jewish Christians.  Early church leaders and scholars often attributed it to Paul.  Paul’s commission as apostle to the Gentiles might suggest another author, but Paul’s passion for his native people and thorough education in the Hebrew Scriptures point toward him as a likely author.

I find three major themes in Hebrews.  These are: the centrality of Christ and his fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant, how faith was central to salvation even before the Mosaic Law, and encouragement in Christian living.

CENTRALITY OF CHRIST

The first section of Hebrews focuses on Jesus Christ.  It makes the case for the divinity of Christ and His complete humanity in the incarnation.  As a perfect man, Jesus Christ fulfilled every requirement of the Mosaic Law.  This made him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man.  In addition, because he is divine and eternal, his atoning sacrifice is likewise eternal.

This is not the only role Jesus Christ fills eternally.  He is the first and highest of mankind and exercises the dominion over creation God gave to man, but that we forfeited when we sinned (as God, He is lord of all also).  As the son of God, Christ had priority over Moses, even though as a man He submitted Himself to the law in loving obedience to the Father.  Christ is a priest of a higher order than the Levitical priesthood, namely a priest like Melchidezek to whom Abraham paid tithes and through him all his descendants including the Hebrew priests.


The law and sacrifices of earlier times were signs pointed to the Christ to come.  All of these things are fulfilled and completed in Him forever.  Where many sacrifices were made to temporarily cover ever mounting sins, Christ’s sacrifice suffices forever to remove all of our sins.  Where the priests entered the presence of God once a year, Christ is constantly in the presence of God making intercession for His people.

CENTRALITY OF FAITH

If Christ does all for our salvation and when no longer need to make sacrifices and observe the Mosaic Law, how do we realize this reconciliation through Christ and live morally?  The answer is faith in Christ.  Hebrews makes the argument that the answer has always been faith in God.

Hebrews makes the argument, drawing on many examples from the Old Testament, that God has forgiven the sins of and imputed righteousness to those who had faith in Him.  This predates Abraham, though for an audience of his descendants it is important in Abraham.  It predates Moses, though for an audience born into a religion base on Mosaic Law it is important in Moses.  Even after the law was given, it is faith that God rewarded because no one could live up to God’s perfect law.

The faithful people of the Old Testament looked forward by faith to a day when God would cleanse their sins, make them righteous, and completely restore their relationship to him.  Even in the time of the law, the sacrifices and observances were signs of the things God was going to do.  God’s provision for the cleansing of sin and the raising us to righteousness were completed in Christ, so we place our faith in Him.  They had faith what was to come, even if they didn’t fully understand it, and we have faith in what Christ has accomplished.

CHRISTIAN LIVING

To wrap up, Hebrews includes encouragement for the faithful.  We’ll face troubles just as those in the Old Testament did, but by faith we can overcome and see the day when God will make us perfect and bring us into His eternal kingdom.  In the meantime, the temporary troubles of this world are opportunities to imitate Christ and become more like Him, more holy in practice.  God is working through these  troubles to help and purify us.

As a result of Christ’s work in us, we should love one another.  This should be practical love, taking care of each other’s needs.  Instead of trying to live up to a law our sinful nature wars against, we put our faith in Christ and walk in humility and love.

If you’re interested in this book, you may be interested in the Old Testament, especially Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, Second Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Daniel.  You may also be interested in other New Testament books, particularly the Pauline Letters and especially Romans.

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